- Colin Fraser
THREE STARS A teenage boy suffering depression moves in with his father.
DRAMA US English #THESON
Starring Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern
Florian Zeller’s interests firmly rest in wellbeing if this thematic sibling to his highly acclaimed THE FATHER is anything to go by. Again we’re in a compact family space and again it’s the impact of failing mental health that drives the narrative. However any comparisons between FATHER and SON begin to drift from this point, although the telling of this story is no less gruelling.
Whereas Zeller placed FATHER’s lens on Anthony Hopkins’ dementia (he appears this time in a forceful cameo although the two roles should not be conflated), here the focus broadens out to tell the story of those most affected by a spiral of teenage depression. Nicholas (Zen McGrath) is unhappy living with his mother Kate (Laura Dern) and moves in with his father Peter (Hugh Jackman), stepmother Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and the pair’s infant child. The hope is that a change of scene and a paternal presence is just what Nicholas needs to lift his mood. Neither Kate nor Beth are convinced and a few false hopes later and they realise the teenager needs much more than anyone is able to offer him. They try to curb their collective disappointment, growing fear and paranoia for the boy’s safety.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing hopeful about THE SON, and that is Zeller’s unapologetic position. Stories like this play out each and every day to the appalling grief of those concerned, and happy endings, he reasons, are nothing more than an unhelpful, dishonest Hollywood prop. The integrity of THE SON is to be applauded. As is Jackman’s note perfect performance which catches the anguish and despair of a distraught man unable to stop his son slipping through his fingers. He is ably supported by Kirby, the ever reliable Dern and Hopkins’ stone cold turn as his elusive father. They are all utterly compelling.
Less so is Zeller who is unable to find the sweet spot that made THE FATHER such a profound experience. By contrast THE SON is much less magnetic. While its subject matter is unquestionably powerful, the delivery is less so, as if the severity of the story prevents his characters to grow around it. The darkness of the material tends to overwhelm the film’s straightforward production, and is not given the light that the transformative, slippery nature of his debut was able to secure.
Despite such concerns THE SON remains an intelligent, heartfelt and powerful film that will resonate with audiences for so many reasons; some good, some bad. Just like real life, don’t go in expecting any kind of happy ending.